A Major Success|
Book 6 of Outside the Foul Lines
by Rick Beck
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I think for the first time since Harold came to live with us, we acted like a real family. Harold was excited and happy to be with us. We were delighted to see him, and the boat had his complete approval. Of course it would, it was another universe for him to explore.
The confines of The Do meant we all interacted at every meal and in between meals much of the time. I sat in the salon sipping coffee and nibbling a crumpet with blackberry jam on it. Andy sat next to me, still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
It was after ten and the sun hadn't risen yet. The boat was a bit unsteady under us as rain showers tapped above us in a muffled overture furnished by Mother Nature. Andy's eyes had focused on the chess board at the corner of where Gene put out different delights for our early morning pleasure. As I said, early morning was more moving toward afternoon and the rain had us all indoors. Andy still slept late each morning, and Gene kept food coming.
"No, you don't want to do that," John Paul said softly to Harold. "Make that move. I move here. I take your Bishop. You take my knight. I take your queen, check mate. You always need to keep your king several moves away from trouble. Someone moves in for check, you move away to a safer position. It looks like a good tradeoff, but you leave yourself exposed for me to close in on the pieces protecting your king. Do you see?"
Harold's eyes never left the board. He watched John Paul's hands as his voice explained how his second or third move wasn't what Harold expected or could see in his unfamiliar mind. It was the second time they'd played.
Harold spent time processing the positions on the board. He finally decided on his next move.
"Very clever," John Paul said. "I didn't see it until you did it. That's an experienced player's move. Where did you come up with that?" John Paul wanted to know.
"Two games ago. It's the move you made to take my queen. Then I tried to keep my king away from you, until you put me out of my misery."
"Man, I've got to keep my eye on you. You remember a move I made two games back. You didn't even know which way your bishop moved two games back."
"No, I wasn't clear on how the bishop moved but my memory was working fine. It's like a jigsaw puzzle. You find one piece you need and a dozen others fit into place."
"Yes, they do," John Paul said. "I didn't expect you to see that far ahead. I've got to alter my thinking. I've also got to watch what I show you if I want to keep beating you."
Andy leaned and whispered in my ear.
"I want to get Harold his own chess set for Christmas. It's a better idea than money. I can always put money in his account. It's not a good present."
I nodded not wanting to say anything out loud.
"John Paul, how long are we having weather?" Andy asked.
"Window from two to five. Might get sun. Rain most of the night according to Miami. Camp Springs isn't so sure the afternoon break is happening."
"Camp Springs?" I asked.
"National Weather Service. Miami more keeps an eye on the southern waters and what's developing and where it might go. Camp Springs does the entire deal as a complete picture of the U S weather at any given time."
"Can we go to dinner in Key West. Gene, anything you're into for dinner that you can't hold over for tomorrow?"
"No. I haven't done the clean up from brunch. I don't have anything out for dinner yet."
"For dinner?" John Paul said. "I can make 7 knots and keep the ride acceptable. If we start at noon, I can have you docked in Key West at five."
"Dinner in Key West?" Harold said.
"We can get off the boat. Stretch our legs. Try the local restaurants," Andy said.
"Sounds like a plan," I said, not revealing what I knew about it.
Harold didn't seem put off by staying indoors. I think the flying wore him out and there was a lot to adjust to once he got to The Do. He read in the salon as John Paul hoisted the anchor and took us toward Key West. Camp Springs was correct, the cloud cover didn't lift but the rain was intermittent. I needed my sweater to be comfortable.
The trip wasn't rough but it wasn't smooth. I was smart enough not to pile on the food. The idea of eating out appealed to me and I wanted to be read for a good feed.
There were a lot of people near the marina and the streets were wet. It was more windy than when we left. It was warmer away from the water. I still wore my jacket and was happy to have it.
John Paul and Gene showed us the way to the restaurants and pointed out some of the highlights on the way. It was a small town, quaint. It looked like something I'd seen in a movie. I liked it.
There were any number of shops and stores. They showed us the bar where Ernest Hemingway used to drink. There was a spot dedicated to him. It was what I expected. There were a lot of happy people drinking and one side of the bar was entirely open to let in the fresh air. That had to be careful planning. Made it easy to throw out drunks.
We picked an Italian restaurant. Harold would eat spaghetti and meat balls. I wanted lasagna and Andy wanted antipasto, garlic sticks, and an Italian plate with three different dishes in small portions.
We chatted about our trip so far and where we'd head once we sent Harold back to school. John Paul had a couple of ideas but nothing was decided. The food was delightful and it was a nice place, although it wasn't very big. Nothing in Key West was very big.
After dinner we found an ice cream shop and Harold's eyes lit up when he saw the banana split. He'd never had one and he thought it looked incredible. Andy and John Paul went off together to do some business. Gene came with Harold and I to check out the ice cream.
Andy and John Paul were weighed down with packages, when they caught up with us. We sat and watched them sample the ice cream. Actually I was too full to move so watching them gave me something to do as my body absorbed a ton of calories and fat. I was going to show up at training cap ten pounds over my playing weight. I hadn't gained weight since I was sixteen.
We walked the streets of Key West for another hour, checking out where the bars and dancing places were. Harold wasn't old enough to drink. We weren't interested in taking in the more colorful parts of town while Harold was visiting us. We were planning on making a return trip to go to our first gay bar and Andy, believe it or don't, wanted to dance with me. I'd never danced with anyone before.
There was more chess and Gene fixed us some fruity drinks to sip while I read and Andy watched the chess game. John Paul offered to show Andy how to play. Andy was content to watch. He took a particular interest in how Harold approached a game he couldn't win, yet.
I went to bed early and Andy came to bed an hour or so later. I couldn't go to sleep until he slid in beside me and wrapped his arms around me.
I loved his smell. If I fell asleep before he came to bed, when he got into bed, the smell of him brought me to the awareness of his presence. When we were separated during baseball season, his smell often came to me in bed at night. It was a comfort that made our being a part easier.
We were never closer than during the days on The Do. There was nowhere Andy could go to get out of my sight for long. There was no lawn to mow or trees to chop. Andy enjoyed the inactivity. He'd been inactive for six months, but he was sick the entire time, until now. He looked better and was getting stronger. The sea did wonders for him.
If we had gone through tough times with his cancer, we were going through good times in its absence. The fresh sea air was good for me as well. I'd never felt better but I was with the two people I loved most. I couldn't ask for a happier Christmas, but with Andy around there was always more than I expected, more than I needed.
Christmas Eve morning we sat through a few more showers. Gene kept us entertained with food. John Paul and Harold were back at the chessboard. Andy and I sat together on the couch, nibbling at food and sipping our morning coffee. It got better with every cup. Gene prided himself in flavorful and rich coffee bean choices. He'd collected several more pounds of beans in Key West.
"Check," Harold said tentatively.
"Nothing worse than the contemplation of victory, only to be met with the agony of defeat. I move my castle to protect my king. You take my castle. I take your queen. Your king is exposed and in two more moves, check and mate. You moved right into my strongest positions. Check isn't the name of the game Harold. Study the board before you move."
"I do," Harold said in frustration.
"You need to see all the pieces and how they're going to react to each move you make."
"I know, but I like saying check. It's as close as I've come so far."
"You are making smarter moves but you still haven't put the game into its larger perspective. Practice, practice, practice," John Paul said.
"What about speed chess, John Paul? You going to show me speed chess?" Harold asked.
"It's a game. Like much of what makes me uncomfortable in today's world, it's objective is to make a cerebral exercise into a footrace. I don't play speed chess. I'd be bad at it. Over time I've learned that things I enjoy are things I take time to enjoy. I enjoy chess as is. Rushing it won't make it a better game, but it's just my opinion."
"Never thought about it that way," Harold said. "Take time to enjoy it. I like it."
"In any event, you've got to learn by seeing the moves and the strategy in action. I don't think speed chess will give you the same feel for the game. Still, it's only my opinion," John Paul said.
Harold turned to look at Andy for some confirmation.
"Don't look at me, son. I'm still waiting for someone to jump something. Those are the strangest checkers I've ever seen."
John Paul burst out laughing and Harold grinned. I didn't know anything about chess. I could see the concentration it took was different from most games I'd played. I was raised on Risk and Sorry. Baseball required focus but I wasn't sure it was anything like chess.
As I matured baseball took up most of my enjoyment time. I played a game for a living, not that I could have done it without Andy's support, but anyway you looked at it, baseball was a game and most of my adult life had been spent playing a game. When I wasn't playing, I was thinking about playing.
The rest of the day saw the weather clearing with the wind picking up a bit. It wasn't too windy to be on deck but the wind was a factor with anything you put down that wasn't of some weight. Lolita wasn't going to blow away and neither were Harold's text books. We spent some time on the fantail reading as we sailed into the gulf once again.
Andy disappeared into the cabin and I didn't think he was sleeping. Each Christmas Eve Andy went about preparing what he'd selected for me so that it could both be a surprise and exciting. I already knew what we were giving Harold, but he'd have it wrapped and under the tree in the salon for Christmas morning. It was always a surprise, because Harold didn't expect anything. He insisted we'd given him everything possible, but he was kid, what did he know. Christmas was for kids and having Harold made our Christmas more fun.
There was a wonderful meal for Christmas Eve. I'd never had roast duck before. I preferred not to think of ducks as roasted. I use to feed ducks the lake in a park in Statesville. I never once thought of eating one.
Gene's ability with food would probably have turned a shoe into a feast. I'd never be able to eat my cooking again. Even the side dishes were things I'd never had before. Rice potatoes with a fabulous chess, chestnuts, oysters, and a combination of vegetables in a white sauce. It was right out of a Charles Dickens' story.
The happiest camper among us was Harold, when Gene delivered his meal under a metal cover. When Harold took off the cover, he was staring at two thick and juicy hamburgers with French fries and onion rings. Harold was in heaven.
"Oh, man, thank you. Real food!" Harold blurted.
It did get a chuckle out of the rest of us, but Harold knew what he liked. I lived on hamburgers and pizza when I was nineteen. I was sure his tastes would change as he matured and he had an opportunity to try different foods.
Harold was already beginning to take bits and pieces of what we were eating. He thought the duck was rich, which it was. He like the potatoes and even tried one oyster and didn't know what to make of it, but he didn't spit it out.
Can't tell you what a nice walk on deck after dinner did for me, because I packed away another major meal. Andy and I held hands and marveled at the crystal clear night with a million times a million stars overhead.
We embraced under the starlight and kissed from time to time. It was like I'd just fallen in love all over again. Andy and I had been together for nearly ten years. He was the only man I ever loved and it suited me fine.
At twenty-seven that was half of the memory of my past. Nothing before Andy could compare with life since I met him. I was alive until I was eighteen, but I hadn't lived. Andy breathed life into me. Even baseball was better after Andy was in the game with me, although my baseball and the baseball he played were two different games now.
We had some drinks with John Paul and Gene after Harold went to his cabin for the night. We exchanged our gifts and celebrated a friendship that had grown out of the purchase of a toy, a very big toy. A toy that brought us joy.
Andy and I had never known another gay couple. Seeing John Paul and Gene together and hearing how they related to one another made us feel even better about our relationship. Seeing two other men very much in love was a nice thing to see. While I never thought about it before, it was the first validation I'd had about the relationship.
I found myself resenting my culture. Andy and I were adored for what we did, but would have been scorned because of who we are. Scorned because we were in love.
In the 21st Century two men couldn't be seen in public sharing affection. I didn't need to love Andy in public, but seeing someone else doing it would have made me feel good. It would be a reflection of who I was.
I lived in a society that celebrated violence, death, and hatred. The idea of two men loving each other was an anathema. If there was more love, if love was as popular as hate, it might be a better place to live.
Luckily, as much as I love Andy, nothing could make me give that up. The joy of having him in my arms, of me being in his arms, was awesome. It's beyond unreasonable to think only a man and a woman should be allowed to share love. To me that was fucked up.
Love needed to be exposed for what it was, wonderful. Hatred should be banned. It made no sense for so many people to spend so much time preaching hatred. No one who was in love could be hateful. Love defeated hate every time. Seeing John Paul and Gene made me aware of how little I'd read about the love Andy and I shared.
At home we didn't watch TV or listen to the radio, because the natering nabobs of negativism abounded. There was no point to what was said, except to incite anger. There were always people wanting to deny marriage for Andy and me. It nauseated to hear people condemning my love.
Seeing John Paul and Gene gave new depth to the meaning of my love for Andy. For the first time it wasn't hidden on a farm in Indiana. The reflection of love was inspiring and enlightening, but a reminder of how love was often stifled. Everyone wasn't as lucky as Andy me. Everyone couldn't afford to buy total privacy.
I was twenty-seven and I'd never seen two men in love before. How was that possible? How was it I didn't think about it or notice nothing gave me a view of my own love.
Celebrating Christmas with a couple just like ourselves was one of the best gifts of that Christmas, when there were so many gifts. Seeing love, not just feeling love, reinforced what Andy and I felt and it made it that much more important. At the same time it was eye opening.
Nothing could have made those languid days better. If there was such a thing as perfection, we'd achieved it in the Gulf of Mexico with people we cared about and loved. The rest of the world be damned. Those days were the best days of our lives, but I didn't see them as a peaking of something that might never be quite so good again. I saw it as the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Doing nothing had never been so nice, but there were now tings I not only wanted to do, but had to do. That was becoming apparent.
Andy and I stood outside the salon doors and kissed, looking up at the sky as Christmas closed in on us. We were in each other's arms at mid-night.
"Merry Christmas, John Dooley."
"Merry Christmas, Andy Green."
"I love you more than words can say," Andy said, as Christmas began with the best gift of all in my arms.
"Not half as much as I love you, Andy Green," I said, kissing him and wrapping my arms around his neck.
When we went into our cabin the Christmas tree was a blaze. It was the most unique Christmas tree ever. It's decorations were sand dollars, starfish, and tiny shells Gene had collected around the world.
All the lights were white and the silver garland that wound around the tree reflected the light back onto the shells and such. It was a work of art that I was going to take home to Indiana to put in our living room as a centerpiece and memory of our first voyage on The Do.
"I want to give you something," Andy said.
It was Christmas and he always gave me plenty, but when he put the ring boxes out under the tree, I wondered what this was about.
"What?" I said. "It's the ring boxes."
I felt my wedding ring, still puzzled.
"Take it off," Andy said.
"I never take it off," I resisted.
"Take it off," he repeated, and I put it in the palm of his hand.
He took my hand and turned it to put the ring back. I was puzzled, until he spoke.
"Do, you are the only person I've ever loved. I love you more each day. With this ring I thee wed," he said, slipping the ring back in place.
We kissed and I started to cry.
Andy turned and took his ring box from under the tree. He opened it, revealing his wedding ring. He hadn't been wearing the chain with the ring on it for fear it would be lost in the sea, but I didn't know he'd brought it with him.
He put the ring in my hand and held his hand out for me to put it on him.
I slipped the ring on his ring finger and I gasped and then I really started to cry.
"It fits. It stayed on. You are gaining weight," I shouted happily, getting the kind of Christmas present money can't buy.
I threw my arms around his neck, kissing him with all the passion I could muster.
"Do, we can't get married now. My career won't allow it. It doesn't mean our love is less a love than people who get someone to say they're married. I don't need anyone to tell me what we are.
"One day we'll tell the world. Seeing John Paul and Gene together made me realize we need to do that. It isn't necessary for you and me, but it'll mean a lot to other people who are in love but must keep silent."
We kissed, we undressed, and we made love.
We held hands, rested, and watched the beautiful Christmas tree.
We kissed some more and made love again. His passion was as great as it had ever been, maybe greater. I fell asleep once we'd made love the third time. I awoke from time to time to remind myself I was firmly within my true love's arms.
Love had never been so fine. No love was ever greater than our love, and one day we'd tell the world.
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